A new year, a new session. While many observers have their focus on the hot legislative topics, alleged agendas and political sticking points of the upcoming session, another crucial aspect of the N.C. General Assembly, and a longstanding point to consider in politics, will be important to keep tabs on – the personalities.
When the legislature convenes Wednesday, 102 of the 170 legislators who were in the building three years ago will be gone. There are still some veterans and many are not new to public service.
However, it is worth noting that many new lawmakers are coming from outside the sphere of politics – among nearly 30 new House Republicans are engineers, company executives, including a hospital president, small business owners and even a neurosurgeon. These perspectives and life experiences will certainly allow for fresh opinions on pressing topics like healthcare, tax reform and the budget. Breaking the typical lawmaker mold may also help break the cycle of partisanship that has plagued North Carolina and the nation over the past few years.
Of course, most of these new folks join the ranks of the majority party. They helped usher in the GOP’s sweeping victories in elections for the state House, Senate and governor’s mansion in 2012. In terms of leadership, the personalities in charge will remain largely unchanged. Unanimously re-nominated to once again assume House leadership is Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), who will continue to be a large force in the General Assembly. Likewise, his counterpart in the Senate, President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), was unanimously re-nominated to serve for another term as well.
Continuing to lead the Democratic ranks will be Sen. Martin Nesbitt (D-Buncombe) as the minority leader and Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake), serving as minority whip. They bring a significant amount of experienced leadership and will help welcome the changing demographics of the Democratic Party on Jones Street. 2013 brings an increase in minority representation, with African-Americans making up the majority in both the Senate and House Democratic caucuses and increasing their seats from 25 to 31.
While Republicans remain firmly in control of the legislature, it is worth noting that many newcomers want to reach across the aisle. Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley (D-Wake) and Rep. Gene McLaurin (D-Richmond) are both freshman Democrats on the record expressing the need for common ground.
Speaker Tillis is looking forward to the number of new faces in the building and a push for bipartisanship, telling press outlets that fresh perspectives are a welcomed change to shake up the inertia that can sometimes plague the legislature. Whatever the agenda may bring, newcomers will be taking their share of the spotlight on their first day at work.